About Capt. Don Wright
Hear Don tell a couple of his favorite stories about leadership and flying now on YouTube!
In search of his boyhood dream of becoming a fighter pilot, Don Wright enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1955. After earning his wings and working as an instructor pilot for several years, he was selected in 1965 as the 192nd man to fly the high-altitude reconnaissance airplane, the U-2, an honor so far afforded to just over 1,000 men and women.
In 1959, as a 25-year-old lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, I realized my lifetime goal: flying the North American fighter jet, the F-86 Sabre. Soon I defined and realized other goals in my life. I married a beautiful, intelligent woman named Polly, we had three fine sons, and my professional life continued to be interesting and challenging. I became a flight instructor, training pilots in the T-33, T-37, and the supersonic T-38. I flew the U-2, America’s high-flying spy plane. My life was a series of adventures and filled with happiness.
Then in 1966, American Airlines made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I had 9 years to serve in the air force before mandatory retirement; the airline offered me a 28-year career. When I left the service, my job changed from one that was almost pure adventure to another that, although less exciting, was both rewarding and challenging. I had made a wise decision.
I served as a flight engineer during my first six months with American. For the next 12 years I was a co-pilot, after which I was promoted to captain. In 1983 I was selected as a check airman, a pilot who trains and checks other pilots.
As a newly promoted airline captain, I once attended a party where I swapped life stories with a teaching psychiatrist. He listened intently to me as I regaled him with tales of my young life, traveling the world and attending 20 schools.
“You seem to be very happy,” he commented.
“I am,” I replied. “I have been most fortunate.” And it was true. I had probably done and seen more before I was 18 than some folks do in a lifetime.
“If I told your story to my class at Dartmouth,” he continued, “my students would probably agree with me that you’re a prime candidate for middle-age depression. Your life sounds like that of an abandoned child.”
“Hardly!” I exclaimed. I’d lived with many families as I grew up, but the one constant was my mother, who, instead of bemoaning her fate (or mine), offered the same sage comment to each change of circumstances: “Donald, you have a wonderful chance to experience new opportunities and meet new people.”
Some people are able to assume responsibility at a younger age than others. My mother divorced my father shortly after I was born. My younger years were spent in troubled times: the Depression, World War II, and the Korean conflict taxed our country’s resources and resilience at a personal, community, and national level. Sometimes we lived in what now would be called poverty, sometimes in luxury. I can’t remember either state having any real influence on me. If a child is loved, fed, and offered an education, then money and position are of little importance. At least this was true for me.
If you would like Don to speak to your organization about the U-2 experience or other topics in this book, and/or if you have comments or questions about the material presented, please feel free to contact the author via the contact form.